Cyber spies embarrass South Korea

2013-05-13 14:41
A scandal has engulfed South Korea's spy agency. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A scandal has engulfed South Korea's spy agency. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Seoul - The scandal shaking up South Korea's main spy agency is not cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the kind of low-grade trickery anyone with an internet connection could pull off. And the target was not Seoul's opaque rival to the north, but the country's own people.

Internet postings ostensibly from ordinary South Koreans, but actually from National Intelligence Service agents, allegedly boosted President Park Geun-hye while she was running for the job as the ruling party's nominee. She was reportedly dubbed "the best", while her opponent, in a play on his name, was called "criminal".

A police investigation conducted before the December election found no wrongdoing, but now police say at least two agents violated the law and the original investigation is itself being examined.

Dozens of internet comments, or more, may not have affected an election that Park won by a million votes, but they have damaged public trust in a spy agency that already had a dubious record.

The agency was founded in 1961 by Park's father, long-time dictator Park Chung-hee. Agents detained, tortured and even allegedly killed his political opponents. After Park was killed in 1979 - by his spy chief, ironically enough - other abuses occurred under his successors.


In recent years, however, criticism of the NIS has centred on what it has failed to do - namely, come up with much intelligence about North Korea. It learned about Kim Jong Il's death in December 2011 two days after it occurred, when Pyongyang's state TV announced it.

The internet comments scandal captured headlines in South Korean media in April when state prosecutors summoned the agency's former director, Won Sei-hoon, and raided its Seoul headquarters. Reports recalled the unfortunate fates of predecessors who ended up being arrested, imprisoned or even killed.

"The prosecution will mobilise all its capabilities to swiftly and thoroughly get the truth of the case," Prosecutor-general Chae Dong-Wook said in a meeting with top prosecution officials on Tuesday, according to his office. "This case should be investigated in a way not to have any lingering suspicion."

The scandal flared about one week before the 19 December election. Liberal opposition members camped outside the apartment of an NIS officer allegedly involved in illicit online campaigning, based on a tip from another agent.
Read more on:    south korea  |  cybercrime

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